Managing COVID-19 at home with a disability


The Australian Government’s latest advice is that COVID-19 should be manageable at home for most vaccinated people. But if you have a medical condition or disability which makes you more vulnerable to the virus you might need more support to safely manage the symptoms.

Key points

  • If you do catch COVID-19 you could have a wide range of symptoms
  • While the Australian Government says most people should now be able to manage COVID-19 at home, it’s important to know when to seek emergency help
  • There are also people you can contact for support that is specific to your situation, whether it’s disability support you need or medical advice

This article brings together information about the levels of COVID-19 symptoms, what to do if you experience them and where to get help if you need more support or medical advice.

Know the seriousness of symptoms

COVID-19 can cause symptoms that range from no symptoms at all in some people, right through to symptoms requiring hospitalisation for other people.

The Australian Government Department of Health describes three levels of symptoms – mild, moderate and severe.

Mild symptoms are what you should be able to manage at home:

  • mild upper respiratory tract symptoms, such as a congested or runny nose, sneezing, or a scratchy or sore throat
  • cough
  • new aches and pains, or lethargy or weakness without shortness of breath
  • mild headache
  • mild fever that responds to treatment
  • loss of smell or taste
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • occasional vomiting or diarrhoea

Moderate symptoms may be manageable for you at home, depending on the supports you need regularly and whether you can receive these when you have COVID-19:

  • shortness of breath while moving around
  • persistent fever above 38C and not responding to treatment
  • persistent worsening cough, regularly producing mucus
  • struggling to get out of bed and feeling dizzy or weak

For these severe symptoms you should call 000:

  • breathlessness at rest, or being unable to speak in sentences
  • unconscious, fainting or drowsy
  • skin turning blue or pale
  • cold and clammy, or pale and mottled, skin
  • pain or pressure in the chest lasting more than ten minutes
  • confusion
  • passing no urine or a lot less urine than usual
  • coughing up blood

How to manage COVID-19 symptoms

After your positive COVID-19 test you should seek health care advice. A doctor will be able to help you understand what to expect and when you need to call for emergency help.

This is particularly important if you have medical conditions which make you more vulnerable to the virus so that you know exactly what to do if you get really sick.

The Health Department recommends managing mild symptoms at home by resting, drinking lots of water to stay hydrated, eating healthily and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen if you are in pain.

For moderate symptoms, you should contact a doctor and if the doctor is not available follow the clinic’s instructions for contacting an emergency department.

This is especially important if you have any risk factors, including if you are 65 years old or older, if you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, if you live in a rural or remote area with limited access to health care, if you are pregnant, if you are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated or if you have concerns about your safety at home.

For children with COVID-19 encourage them to keep telling you if they feel uncomfortable or unwell, so you can help to monitor their symptoms. Dress them in comfortable clothes to stop them from sweating or shivering, make sure they drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated and encourage them to rest.

Call your doctor or local health care centre if your child is less than 3 months old, your child’s symptoms seem to be worsening, your child has a chronic illness and your GP has told you to seek help if your child gets a respiratory or gastrointestinal illness, or you are worried about your child.

You should also seek help if your child is struggling with their mental health because of isolation.

If you are unable to explain your needs to support workers when they come to visit you – which could be for several reasons, such as communication issues around Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – have clear COVID-19 specific personal support instructions written down and placed in an accessible location in your home.

This can also help in the case that you have new support workers because your regulars are isolating themselves.

Keep cleaning and practising good hygiene

For households with more than one resident, it is important to remember regular cleaning and hygiene, so that if one person in your house has the virus you can try to prevent it from spreading to others.

Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, use hand sanitiser when you need to, wear masks if you are unable to completely isolate from others in your house and use disinfectant to wipe over surfaces that are frequently touched, like door handles and benchtops.

If you do have children and you get COVID-19, develop a plan for who will look after them.

While you might be able to live safely in the same house if you keep up high hygiene standards and isolate as much as possible, there is a risk your children may get sick or that there might be some tasks you can’t do while sick – like cooking them dinner.

In addition, have a plan for who will look after any assistance animals or pets you may have, so that you can make sure they are kept healthy if you are too sick, or if you have to go to hospital.

Treatment of COVID-19

While there is no cure for COVID-19 there are some treatments that have been approved for use in Australia.

Particularly if you are considered medically vulnerable to the virus these treatments may be prescribed to you by a doctor or while you are in hospital to limit how severely the virus affects you.

The treatments can’t prevent you from catching the virus, they can only be used to try to stop you from getting severe symptoms or to help you recover more quickly if you have severe symptoms.

A medical professional will decide whether the treatment is likely to work for you or not.

Where to get support

Make sure you tell people in your support network that you have COVID-19 so that they can continue to support you in the safest way possible.

This means telling your family members, friends, support workers, providers, therapists and specialists and working out how they will connect with you – online or over the phone if possible, but if absolutely necessary your support workers may need to visit in full PPE.

If you need more support than what your regular network is available to give, you can call the Disability Gateway’s Disability Information Helpline on 1800 643 787. If you are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment, you can also call the National Relay Service on 13 36 77 to help you access information services.

The Disability Gateway helpline operates Monday to Friday, 8am-8pm (AEST) and Saturday and Sunday 9am-7pm, but not on public holidays.

You can also call the helpline for COVID-19 related support if you don’t have the virus, for example, if your support worker has not turned up, your provider has stopped services, it’s hard for you to get food, groceries, medications or other essential items or someone close to you has symptoms of coronavirus.

Disability Gateway operators will refer you to the services you need, such as other providers, counsellors or COVID-19 information lines. The Disability Gateway is not just for people with disability but also their family members, carers and support workers.

The Council for Intellectual Disability also has several easy read guides on COVID-19 topics, particularly for people living in group homes or head to our dedicated Coronavirus page for a range of articles.

In an emergency where you have severe COVID-19 symptoms call 000, and if you are seeking other non-urgent medical advice contact your local GP.

This article is general in nature and is not medical advice. If you need medical advice contact a medical professional.

What else would you like to know about COVID-19? Tell us in the comments below.

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